Jack Goldstein, 57; Artist Explored Emptiness

Times Staff Writer

Jack Goldstein, an influential artist who explored the spectacular beauty and terrifying emptiness of modern life in performances, films and paintings during the 1970s and ‘80s, died Friday at his home in San Bernardino. He was 57.

Goldstein had stopped making art in 1990 and suffered from chronic depression in recent years. He committed suicide, said Brian Butler, a Los Angeles dealer who represented him and presented a survey of his early work in 2001.

Born in Montreal in 1945, Goldstein moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1963. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Chouinard Art Institute in 1969 and a master of fine arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts in 1972. One of CalArts’ first graduates, he was part of a group of high-profile artists who emerged from the school, including David Salle, Troy Brauntuch, James Welling and Matt Mullican.

Goldstein moved to New York in 1974 and captured attention with short films, records and performances. Inspired by art history and mass-media imagery, he often made use of commercial production techniques. With artists Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, he was affiliated with the “Pictures” artists group, which took its name from a 1977 exhibition at Artists Space in New York.


Goldstein began to concentrate on painting in the late 1970s. His best-known images are based on magazine photographs of nighttime firefights in World War II, but he also painted astronauts adrift in space, volcanic eruptions and lightning.

He compiled an extensive exhibition record during his productive years. Even after he stopped painting and moved back to Southern California in the early ‘90s, museums continued to exhibit his work. Last year, a show of his films and performances was presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and retrospectives were staged at the National Center of Contemporary Art in Grenoble, France, and the Luckman Gallery at Cal State Los Angeles.

In a Times review of the Los Angeles show, David Pagel characterized the artist as “a master at capturing some of the mystery that lurks just beneath reality’s surface” and wondered “what he would be painting today if he hadn’t abandoned his talents.” The show “attests to the hidden costs of creativity, the invisible difficulties that sometimes make being an artist an impossible proposition.”

One talent Goldstein cultivated in his final years was writing. Butler’s Gallery, 1301PE, recently published a book of his writing. “Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia,” an autobiography written with Richard Hertz, will be published by Minneola Press in April.


Goldstein is survived by his parents, Meyer and Ellen Goldstein, and his sister, Linda Goldstein, all of San Bernardino.